The Promise Of Pentecost Power
This past week, I received a letter from a lady in Eustis, Florida who watches “The Certain Sound” on television. In the letter, she shared some of the struggles she is facing and she indicated her need for more power in dealing with those situations. Then right in the middle of her letter, boldly underlined for emphasis, came this question: “Can you explain the Holy Spirit to me a little better?”
Well, for one in search of power for dealing with the hard times of life, she asked the right question at the right time. Today is Pentecost Sunday, the birthday of the Church, the day when the Holy Spirit came with power upon the disciples of Jesus Christ and thus brought into being the Church of Jesus Christ. In other words, Pentecost is more power to you! So while in these few minutes I shall not be able to explain fully the Holy Spirit, I do at least want to respond to this lady’s letter by looking at “The Promise of Pentecost Power.”
Notice this first: Pentecost power is designated for disciples.
In Acts 1, when Jesus predicted the coming of Pentecost, He said: “You shall receive power…” He was speaking to His disciples. And it was to those disciples that the power came in Acts 2. The point is this: Pentecost is not for all those whom God has made, His children by creation. Rather, Pentecost is for those who are His children by regeneration, those who have become His children in a unique way because they come to Him through the redeeming power of His Son.
Understand, please, that to be a disciple does not mean that you must be a special person. Those original disciples were nothing special, believe me. I have often thought that if some management firm had given an examination to the original twelve, the results would not have been impressive. They would have pointed out that the twelve were lacking in cultural sophistication, educational experience, and vocational aptitude. They would have illustrated the case by pointing out that Peter was unstable; James and John were possessed of volcanic tempers and were prone to selfishness; Thomas had a tendency to undermine the morale of the group; Matthew had already been blacklisted by the Jerusalem Better Business Bureau; Simon showed very radical tendencies and probably would have scored high on a manic-depressive scale. The original twelve were, by most earthly standards of measurement, a rather sub-standard group. But you see, they had become the children of God by the regenerating power that came through Jesus Christ. By offering themselves to Jesus in complete commitment, they were born anew and they received the power of the Holy Spirit. As a result, this sub-standard group was transformed into a company of the committed who ultimately changed the world.
There it is. The promise of Pentecost power is given to those who yield themselves to God and become His children, so that He becomes their Father and their Saviour. And at that point in time, at that moment when we surrender our lives to the command of Jesus Christ and commit ourselves to becoming His disciples in our every day living, at that point, Jesus says: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”
The Holy Spirit is the third person in the Trinity. I know as soon as I say the word “Trinity” there are those who say that now we have lapsed over into the area of mystery. And, of course, that is true. I remember the story of the Jewish gentleman who was hit by a car right in front of the Roman Catholic cathedral. A priest ran out to administer the last rites. Kneeling down beside the injured man, the priest said to him: “Do you believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit?” The old Jew looked up at him and said: “I am dying and he is asking me riddles!”
So this business of the Holy Spirit is a great mystery, yet it arose out of the very real experience of some very real people. When Christians, just like us, tried to think of what God is like, they thought of Him first as their creator, their life-giver, so they called Him “Father.” Then when Jesus came, they saw God in a new way—as the Word made flesh, as the One who came to save them—and they called Him “Son.” And yet they also realized that God was very much present in their own lives. God was beyond them, creating and inhabiting all time and space. God was behind them in history when He walked the roads of Palestine in the flesh as Jesus Christ. But God was also within them, presently, now. And they called Him “The Holy Spirit.”
Therefore, Pentecost is the time when God the Holy Spirit enters presently and profoundly into the lives of Christians. He comes to us personally. When we become disciples of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit enters into us and we begin to experience a new power for living—a power which enables us sometimes to triumph over our difficulties and other times to triumph in spite of our difficulties. That is the promise of Pentecost power.
But notice this also: Pentecost power is discovered in daring.
In Acts 1, Jesus said that when the power of the Spirit came upon the disciples they would be moved to become courageous and daring witnesses for Him. In other words, when we move out and run risks in the name of God, then we discover the reality of the presence of His Spirit within us.
Think of it like this. When oil is discovered in some part of Saudi Arabia, there is a gusher that is quickly capped off. Then the oil is slowly drawn out of the well and put into pipelines and carried across miles of desert. Nestit is transported by tankers to our shores. It is pumped into other pipelines and then goes into storage tanks. Ultimately it is moved into a refinery where it is made into gasoline. Train tank cars carry it across the country. Trucks carry it to the station and pump it into underground tanks. Then you pump it into your car. Now the interesting thing about all that is that at no time in the process do you ever see the oil or the gasoline. The only way you actually know it is there is when you turn on the engine and step on the gas.
Pentecost was the gusher—the explosion of God’s Spirit into the Church and into people’s lives. Since that time it has been piped to us through the testimony of Scripture, through the saints, and through the history of the Church. And when we make our commitment to Jesus Christ, we in essence “pump” that spirit into our lives. But you will never know that the Spirit is there if you do not step on the gas. You will never understand that until you commit what you are and what you have to the work of the Church as it seeks to bear witness to Jesus Christ. Just so, many people are without a consciousness of this presence and the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives because they never risk anything in their religion—they never make the significant commitment of their personal resources to the cause of Jesus Christ. It is in the risk that you discover the reality.
I got an amazing phone call the other day. A man, not a member of our church, called to say that he had been riding the shuttle from the city parking garage to his office downtown. Two women were in the seat behind him talking. One was describing the difficulties of her life to the other. The other woman listened a bit and then said: “I’ll tell you what. If you really need help, go down to the First Presbyterian Church. They always do what they say they will do.” Well, I was thrilled when I was told that by the man who heard it, because it is true. Here we guide little children into the life of faith. Here we inspire young people with a vision of Christ. Here we warm those outside of Christ at the cost of sin. Here we heal countless hurt souls and broken hearts. Here we put a star in the sky of people’s grief. Here we befriend the lonely. Here we help people to point their lives toward heaven. Here we cherish the elderly. Here we heal the sick, and protect the fearful and strengthen the weak. It is because we are engaged in that kind of significant witness for Jesus Christ in this place that we experience the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit in this church.
Hudson Taylor was one of our great missionaries to China in years gone by. He was on board a sailing ship on one occasion and it was becalmed. There was not a breath of air and the ship began to slowly drift toward an island which was known to be inhabited by practicing cannibals. The captain of the ship approached Hudson Taylor and said: “Please pray that we shall receive some wind. You are a man of prayer, so pray.” Taylor replied: “I will pray if you will unfurl your sails and set them to catch the wind.” The captain said: “You pray up the wind and then I will set the sails.” Taylor said: “No, set the sails for the wind and then I will pray.” The captain said: “The crew and the other passengers will think that I am crazy because there is no breeze.” Hudson Taylor was firm. “Until you unfurl the sails, then I will not pray.” Because the fatal coast was getting closer and closer, the captain yielded and set the sails for a great wind. As he predicted, the crew and passengers laughed at him. Hudson Taylor went down to his stateroom and began to pray. In a little while, the captain knocked on the door and said: “Sir, you do not have to pray any more. We have all the wind we can manage.”
My beloved, the reason more of us do not experience the power of the Spirit in our lives is that we pray before we set our sails. We do not unfurl them, we do not make the full commitment to Christ and His Church, we do not risk anything, and therefore, the power does not come upon us. It is in the moment of risk that God honors our act of faith with a demonstration of His power through the Spirit. That is why I call you today to commit your life to Jesus Christ and to commit your resources to the work and witness of this church.
This is a great day! It is Pentecost. It is the Church’s birthday. But it is a great day also because it could be your birthday in Jesus Christ…